Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Bury the Chains

August 22, 2006

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild is a brief, readable account of the movement that ended slavery in the British Empire. It’s worthwhile, because it makes two points that are too often forgotten. First, that all the tactics of organized social movements (boycotts, pamphlets, petitions, etc.) that we take for granted were pioneered by the anti-slavery movement. Secondly, that when the movement started in the 1780s, the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants were slaves by any meaningful definition. Too many things are still wrong in the world, but at least that is no longer true.


I am alive and you are dead

August 15, 2006

I have been on a Philip K. Dick jag lately, triggered by the release of the new movie A Scanner Darkly (I will write a review of it later). Anyway, mixed in with a serial re-reading of his novels, I took the time to read the excellent Dick biography I am alive and you are dead. Although it does an excellent job of explaining the source of Dick’s obsessions with alternate realities and surface deceptions, the real value of the book is the numerous, often amusing, anecdotes that illustrate Dick’s character. A visiting French intellectual insists Ubik is one of the five best novels ever written, Dick assumes he must mean, at most, one the five best sci-fi novels ever. When the visitor insists that he really means one of the five best novels ever, the humble Dick is left baffled. Dick is convinced that Stanislaw Lem is part of an elaborate Soviet plot to lure him to Poland to brainwash him, and prevent him from revealing God’s ultimate truth to the world. Dick cannot understand his wife’s anger at his modeling of the controlling, insensitive, domineering wife in Confessions of a Crap Artist on her: “It’s just a book,” he keeps saying. Unfortunately, for Dick, it never was.


May 25, 2006

I just finished re-reading Damage by Josephine Hart. This is easily Hart's best book, mostly because all of her other books are weak re-workings of the same theme. Ironically, I think my opinion of Damage has gone down over the years, because of how disappointing I found the rest of her work. Or, it may just be that as I age I understand the feelings of the middle-aged protagonist a bit better. Now, I just need to see the movie version, something I have been meaning to do ever since I first read the book.

Driving Chandler Off a Cliff

March 5, 2006

I just finished reading Drive by James Sallis. Midway through the book, a character asks, “Where’s Marlowe’s apartment?” That about sums up the book. Although Sallis dedicates the book to McBain, Westlake and Block, it is an extended play on the work of Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately, it evokes Chandler’s later confused work, when he was writing while drunk, rather than his best work like “The Long Goodbye.” If you admire Chandler, avoid this book, and instead pick up Gun, With Occasional Music by Johathan Lethem. Lethem’s book can be read profitably more than once. Sallis’s is merely good to occupy a couple of hours.

February 13, 2006

Read A Long Way Down this weekend. It’s typical Nick Hornby: easy to read, and determined to make the point that the only thing that makes life bearable is the small, human connections we make. Not as good as High Fidelity, marginally less depressing than How to be Good, better than About a Boy.

Wind in the Willows

February 5, 2006

One of the most frustrating experiences as a parent is suggesting a book that you loved as a child to your own children, and finding they are completely uninterested. That’s what happened to me when I gave Wind in the Willows to my daughters. So, I just re-read it myself. It’s still wonderful.

1587, A Year of No Significance

February 4, 2006

Just finished re-reading 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline. This is arguably the best book of Ming history ever written.